IMPORTANCE OF ALTERNATIVE RENEWABLE ENERGY

SHAMSUL GHANI (shams_ghani@hotmail.com)
Sep 21 - Oct 04, 2009

The omnipresent power crisis has a history of technical, administrative, and political failures. Planning Commissionís Vision-2030 energy mix development program envisages an enhancement of generation level to 27,420 MW by 2010. With 2010 just around the corner and the generation level still hovering around 15, 000 MW level, the achievement of ambitious target looks a distant possibility.

The stopgap arrangement of Rental Power Plants will do little to increase the generation to the projected level. Besides the overstated numeric values, the corresponding energy mix envisaged by the program also appears distorted. The over-reliance on gas-based energy in the face of fast depleting gas resources, and under estimation of the potential of huge coal and water resources is a travesty of resource evaluation.

We have ample coal reserves that need to be mined and utilized in power generation. The sooner we replace the oil-based generation with the coal-based generation the better. The recent progress on this front made by the Sindh government is a welcome development.

The signing of 1000 MW Thar coal project between the Sindh government and Engro on public-private partnership basis is a right step in the right direction. The coal and hydropower is the future of this country. Gas-based and alternative renewable energy (ARE) generation can contribute their mite in accordance with the gas reserves position and pre-requisite conditions for ARE projects.

The nuclear power generation is closely linked to our relations with the outer world. This sector may be allowed to develop at its own pace.

  THERMAL        
  OIL GAS COAL HYDEL NUCLEAR RENEWABLE TOTAL
Existing Capacity 6,400 5,940 160 6,460 400 180 19,540
ADDITION
2010 160 4,860 900 1,260 - 700 27,420
2015 300 7,550 3,000 7,570 900 800 47,540
2020 300 12,560 4,200 4,700 1,500 1,470 72,270
2025 300 22,490 5,400 5,600 2,000 2,700 110,760
2030 300 30,360 6,250 7,070 4,000 3,850 162,590
Total 7,760 83,760 19,910 32,660 8,800 9,700 162,590
%age 4.77 51.52 12.25 20.09 5.40 5.97 100

The under-estimation of our ìcoal potentialî is a bit enigmatic. The policy of federalization of provincial resources has done great damage to this country. It has not only hampered the countryís economic development but has also created political divide among the masses. It was back in sixties when the feasibility of Thar coal deposits and their utilization was undertaken. It is quite inexplicable why this matter of great national importance is still in the preliminary stage.

India has been making use of its coal resources for power generation since long. Anand Kumar (Daily Dawn) writes India has a power generating capacity of 150,000 MW and much of it is fired by coal. Indiaís dependence on coal for power generation is growing with the passage of time. Public and private sector are tapping the entire global coal resources for either import into India or outright acquisition as foreign assets. According to the writer, Indiaís coal reserves stand at 250 billion tons. We, being a much smaller country, are fortunate enough to have coal reserves in the range of 175 billion tons. How else the nature could help us? We wasted almost 25 years toying with the idea of Kala Bagh dam without opening up to other possibilities, and then finally ditched it.

Instead of playing with the political differences, we could have gone for amicable solutions.

It is quite intriguing that any detailed and authentic information on Thar coal reserves is not available. There are contradictory views on the quality and sulphur content of deposits. Dubious accounts regarding the real utility of these deposits are presented. High extraction cost and environmental issues are sometimes described as inhibiting factors, thereby undermining the real worth of this resource. If India has not attracted environmentalistsí unwelcome attention until now, how Pakistan which is less industrially developed in comparison to India can be subjected to such restrictions.

A lot has been said and written about alternate renewable energy. According to an AEDB (Alternative Energy Development Board) report, renewable energy contributes only 0.21 per cent to the total power generation. Planning Commissionís 2030-vision program has set a target of about 6 per cent for such type of energy. Alternative Renewable Energy (ARE) techniques can be conveniently utilized in areas having low load factor. These technologies are best suited for areas where conventional grid supply cannot reach. The lowest strata of the society and those inhabiting coastal areas can be the beneficiaries. ARE can be used for electrification of remote areas. It can therefore, be a tool of social uplift and poverty alleviation. AEDB has set for itself an electrification target of 7,874 remote, off-grid villages in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan, through renewable energy.

Wind, solar and bio energy are the major types of ARE. While a lot of work has been done on wind energy and a few projects have been successfully implemented, the idea of solar energy has not got much recognition due mainly to the high initial capital cost. The deputy chairman Planning Commission is known to have said that we will have to wait till such time a breakthrough comes in the solar cell technology. This suggest that despite being worthwhile subject from social and economic standpoints, ARE cannot be the focal point in the grand design of industrial and economic development.

We will have to follow in the footsteps of India and China and bring to the fore our coal potential. Planning Commission would do well to review its 2030-vision projections and assign much higher weights to coal and hydropower generation after taking away the bulk of load from gas-based generation.